I entered 2015 dead asleep under numerous blanket layers. Professor X and I dined earlier at Luc – one of Corvallis’ four romantic date restaurants – and even went to Fred Meyer for midnight bubbly and a 32″ TV. Somewhere around the hardware section, my joints started to ache and not in that wearing-high-heels kind of way. The faux fur coat wasn’t warm enough. About an hour after we got home, I was shivering to come apart at the seams. Such is life. My main regret is that I’m terribly late with my 2014 year in review.

Let’s get down to it, yes? In no particular order:

1) Indian food at home
My first attempt to make Indian food at home was in 2000. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to make my beau at the time samosas from Madhur Jaffrey and some S. Asian inspired something something entrée from Molly Katzen. It was a disaster, and I declared Indian food a restaurant pursuit. Some years later, an art history colleague offered to teach us her chicken recipe that she received from a graduated elder. While much better than my own effort, it didn’t quite convince me to give up my take-out habit. I did see the error of my ways though. For one thing, you have to use a lot more of everything than you think. Nearly a decade later, I met Professor X, who not only showed me fundamentals of S. Asian cooking, but also acts as a sanity check whenever I discover a new recipe. Thanks to a pressure cooker and the Internet (Manjula Jain and Sanjeev Kapoor are highly recommended), I’ve been turning out rajma, chole bhature, aloo methi, and a number of other dishes on a weekly basis. We even did a masala Thanksgiving this year with chicken malaiwala as the main course.

2) Pok Pok
Mme. Jo, It Girl of Avondale and my long-lost twin (she’s the right-handed one), came forth from Chicago for a holiday. She, like me, lets the location take her where it may with few set destinations. Pok Pok was her only request. I knew Pok Pok was hot. I knew they did Thai. I also dragged my feet a bit because I hate driving, especially in Portland. Shit got real when she offered to get behind the wheel.

We arrived to find a sprawling, cozy patio and an hour and a half wait. We put in a name, and tottered off to Whiskey Soda Lounge, which is also owned by Pok Pok. The bar is set up brilliantly to be a holding area as the two locations have merged computer systems. The waiter at WSL knew we were coming, and gave us a Pok Pok menu to peruse over drinks. When our table was ready, WSL let us know and cashed us out quickly.

Looking back on it, I’m grateful that we had the time to look over the menu. It’s extensive, written in very small font, and neither of us had seen that kind of Thai food before. You will not find pad thai, tom yum soup, or any other dish you’re used to. Instead, you’ll find things like grilled boar collar, a litany of yam (Thai salads), and authentic street food. All of it is impeccably fresh. Most of it is seriously spicy. And you absolutely must get the Pok Pok special: half a roasted game hen with sticky rice, papaya salad, and dipping sauce.

At one point, Mme. Jo beamed over her “33” beer, “This totally reminds me of my trip to Vietnam!”

3) Gathering Together Farm
Ygal, my former assistant editor, has ended up being a great restaurant source. He has a discerning palette and urban expectations when it comes to dining out. Grazi to ya.

I recorded my experience at Gathering Together already, so I will just say that I can’t wait for them to open again in the spring. Winter is just that much longer without it. My only bit of critique is that they regulate their wine pours better. I stopped by with Mme. Jo and we got two vastly different glasses. Hers: scanty and she was in the mood to drink. Mine: overflowing and I was at the end of my booze tolerance for the week. It’s the small ironies.

4) Southtown Al Jebal
Hidden away in Southtown, where many Corvallisites can’t be bothered to tread, is Al Jebal; location of our favorite kebab. They’re starting to recognize us. I predict that they’ll ask us where we’ve been if we don’t stop in for a while by summer. Portions are epic. Everything on the menu is good. I’d encourage more Corvallis folks to go there, but, honestly, I don’t want to be stuck in a queue with their blandness.

5) Columbus food scene
Oddly enough, I’ve seen more of my parents since moving farther away than when I lived in Chicago. In addition to getting in more quality time with the fam, I’ve also experienced more of Columbus’ rapidly changing food scene. It wasn’t bad before I left in 2009, but my oh my baby has grown so fast in the past two years. All the craft beer pop-ups and chalkboard menu joints remind me of Portland, except better because Midwesterners don’t suffer the kind of annoying, twee smugness that sugarcoats the City of Roses.

My favorite discoveries so far – Mya’s and Hot Chicken Takeover. Mya’s used to park its two piece and a biscuit goodness in the Super Foodmart parking lot on High and Pacemont. They’ve since moved over to Sawmill Rd. It doesn’t matter, because their fried chicken with honey vinegar drizzle is worth the drive. Hot Chicken Takeover – upstairs in the North Market Friday through Sunday – does fried bird Nashville-style with four levels of spice ranging from “Cold” (regular fried chicken) to “#@!*$%&.” Served with slaw, mac’n’cheese, and pickles, their two piece meals are a glorious feast. Do try the banana pudding as well.

6) Chicago blitzkreig
Professor X and I rolled into the Windy City for two days after Christmas. Since it was our present to ourselves, we ate heartily of our favorites in the city: snails at La Creperie, kebab at Sabri Nihari, sushi at Sushi Mura. We picked up a few things at Patel Brothers, and inhaled deeply of their pickle bar while debating TSA logistics. (Is pickle a liquid or a solid?) We even scratched a to-do off our Chicago Date list – cocktails on the top floor of Hancock Tower.

Perhaps it was the Russian tourist who farted on my head or seeing half the block of Davis St. where Professor X lived burned down, but the trip took on a misty good-bye tour feel. While smoking and strolling among Lakeview’s extant functional gaslights on our last night, we agreed that we walked away mad at Chicago. It was good to come back and put some things to bed.

7) Local Ocean
We drive over to Newport every three months or so to inhale some ocean breeze, watch the sea lions, and, usually, eat at Local Ocean. It’s the one place over there that offers seafood in ways other than fried. Don’t get me wrong. Fried is awesome. I just figured that since they had all those nice ocean creatures right the hell there, chefs would be a little more flexible with their techniques. Perhaps they’re answering tourists’ demands.

We visited Local Ocean for the first time with my parents in 2013, but my recent visit with Mme. Jo was unforgettable in its decadent simplicity. We had been walking for much of the day, and the autumn air turned cold about two blocks away from the resto. We warmed ourselves with a bowl a lobster bisque, then shared a dozen raw oysters and a split of prossecco as dusk fell and rain started. She’s an engrossed and deliberate diner, so the moment was even more of a silent communion.

8) New Morning Bakery fruit cake
Yes. Just the fruitcake. See, I hate fruitcake. It’s too sweet, too dry, too much plastic-y candied fruit. For some reason, New Morning Bakery’s English-style cake is actually good – chock full of walnuts, almonds, dried fruits that still resemble themselves, and plenty of spices. My mom picked one up during her 2013 visit, but I never thought that I’d anticipate its seasonal return in 2014. We bought four one-pounders in the span between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. We were even gone for a week of that time period. *sigh*

9) Sweets at Devi
Every Friday, our local S. Asian grocery receives a shipment of sweets and snacks from Portland. Sometimes only the samosas show up. Sometimes it’s everything except the jalebis. Regardless, this discovery has made Friday very exciting because Corvallis has nothing else like it. My only complaint is the irregularity of it, but that’s just how things go in here. Stores actually run out of things. There is nothing you can do but wait a week for the next shipment.

10) McWeenie’s Hot Dog stand
I love McWeenie’s hot dogs. There really isn’t much more to say than that. I love them, and the owner is an interesting, awesome cat. If you don’t buy a dog from him at least once, you hate freedom. To help you out, he’s located on Madison Ave. in front of the strip that houses Starbuck’s and Einstein’s during the week from 11:00 to 3:00-ish. He also sets up at the outdoor Farmers Market on Saturdays from late April to November. Go. Eat.

So that’s my 2014 in review. We’re finally in a groove here in Corvallis. We’ve learned to enjoy small things and quiet rituals. I’ve remembered that I didn’t forget how to be happy. Sure, we still chomp at the bit for something a little more…diverse, but it’s home for now.

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